The following article originally appeared in The Torch, the student newspaper of Roosevelt University, in Fall 2014.
Roosevelt University’s long history of service to military veterans can be traced back to before its founding in 1944 when President Franklin Dealno Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Bill, commonly known as the “G.I. Bill”, which granted unprecedented social welfare programs to every man and woman who served the nation in times of peace or war. Hailed as major economic driver after World War 2, the G.I. Bill has allowed millions of veterans and their dependants access a higher education that they may have otherwise never been able to obtain.
Today, as thousands of veterans return home to the families they left behind, many are faced with limitless prospects thanks in part to the same legislation put in place generations ago. At Roosevelt, Peter La Haire is tasked with helping these new veterans take the next step in their already incredible lives. As Roosevelt’s lone Veteran Services Coordinator, Peter tirelessly dedicates himself to all the students who enter his office, be they veterans, their spouses or dependents.
“We have 87 veterans that go to school here, along with 30 dependents. My job is to work with them from the time they express interest in the institution.” says La Haire from his modest corner office on the third floor of the Wabash building. “I work with them through the enrollment process, admissions, financial aid; I coordinate all of the information exchange with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and make sure that all their tuition is being paid appropriately (and that tends to be priority number one). I want to make sure that they do not have to focus on their money, and that they can concentrate on their academic outcome.”
La Haire provides these students in need with with more than just advice to student services such as visiting the Academic Success Center, counseling services, or methods of tuition assistance, he reminds them that they are not alone.
“You’re coming from an environment where you’re being told what to do, how to do it, or what to do when your done,” La Haire advises, “you come out of the service and you’re told you can do anything that you want and that’s just really overwhelming…First year students coming in have it hard enough after high-school, but when you come out of a military setting in to a higher education setting you get kind of a one-two punch. They’re very very different.”
Paul Loebe, a Marine Reservist, current Roosevelt student, and aide in the Veterans Services Office served on active duty for 8 years. “I was stationed in Hawaii and Camp Pendleton, California,” Loebe proudly states. “I served two tours to Iraq, one tour to Afghanistan, and one Expeditionary deployment to the middle east…I think only one of my classes knows, and they only really know because of my backpack. I try not to make a big deal about it.”
Loebe, dressed casually smart in a burgundy button–up shirt that is tucked neatly in his khaki slacks, wants to spread Roosevelt’s message of social justice as he laterally transitions from current Mastery of Service (or M.O.S.) in Artillery, to 3D Civil Affairs where he hopes to make and, “effective and lasting impact.”
“Probably what attracts me the most [to Roosevelt] is the mission statement,” Loebe continues with warm smile. “I love what Pete’s done with putting this together. I’m actually trying to see if we can get a veterans [group] started here. One of the things I know I had when I started here is the brotherhood, but suddenly, it’s gone.”
La Haire explains that a lot people that veterans struggle with the transition from servicemen to student, and that poor experiences in school or their their military career can derail that transition . “A lot of that comes not necessarily from what happened that was bad about their time in the service, but it’s that they miss the good stuff. They miss the camaraderie.”
Mike Vivirito, a senior and Journalism major concurs with feeling of isolation when he recounted his experiences. “I served in Iraq under the 101st Airborne until September of 2006. I drove 220,000 miles from Kuwait, throughout Iraq and into many parts of Syria, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia…You remember in the Army; every morning you got up and did what the other 20 guys around you did? Well in school, you are on your own. You need to take all the organization, dedication, motivation and discipline you learned and apply it to being a great student,” says Vivirito.
“Roosevelt has done a very good job with its veterans.”, Vivirito continues,”Peter LaHaie, especially, has been an irreplaceable guide through the G.I. Bill and Veteran Program at R.U. His dedication and follow through have been an unequal tool in my success at R.U. thus far.”
As a former Roosevelt student and veteran, La Haire knows first hand the needs for Roosevelt’s service members and reminds students that they are not alone in their new avenues towards success.
“I got my Bachelors in 2012, started in 2010,” recalls La Haire with a raised brow and jovial grin. “…When I decided I was going to go to college at 35, I went to school full-time, and I worked full-time…I came, I took the tour, and at the time the best view was out of the library because [the Wabash] building wasn’t here. As soon as the doors opened, that was it! Hook, line and sinker…When I came off active duty, and took off the uniform, I went from having what we consider the, “Ultimate Purpose”: defending this great nation, and we [veterans] can have this sort of identity crisis in that you can wonder, “What’s it all about now?” You’re coming from an environment where you’re being told what to do, how to do it, or what to do when your done, and then you come out of the service and you’re told you can do anything that you want and that’s just really overwhelming…First year students coming in have it hard enough after high-school, but when you come out of a military setting in to a higher education setting you get kind of a one-two punch. They’re very very different.”
As an institution that was initially comprised of numerous servicemen and women, Roosevelts current veterans help to add to its nationally revered status as one of the most diverse colleges. While their current numbers may not be as vast as they initially were, it is important to remember that, as times changes, one must honor not just the past veterans, but the sacrifices of the present veterans, be they large or small.
“I’m trying my best to make this the Go-To institution for veterans looking to start and complete their higher education, “La Haire stresses, wrinkle in his brow and a fist clenched in honesty. “I want them to know that when they come here they will be well taken care of, that they will be fed, that their needs will be met…When people ask me what I do, I primarily work with [the veteran] population, but the first three words out of my mouth are, “I graduate students”. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s not just enrolling them, it’s serving them and making sure that they walk across that stage! That what’s brings me to work as a Roosevelt administrator, I’ll do it for any student I come in contact with, but that’s what I do.”